Australian Jews Press Prime Minister on Middle East Issues, but Gain Little
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Australian Jews Press Prime Minister on Middle East Issues, but Gain Little

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An unprecedented two-hour meeting that Australian Jewish leaders held last week with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Foreign Minister Gareth Evans did little to resolve the “continuing significant differences” Australian Jews have with their government’s Middle East policy.

But the Jewish leaders believe the ministers are sincere in their “commitment to seek a settlement in the Middle East that would ensure secure and recognized boundaries for Israel.”

They also seemed mollified, if not satisfied, by a statement from the ministers on relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The July 4 meeting was the first since May 1989 between top government officials and Jewish community leaders. It was also the longest such session on record.

The six-member Jewish delegation was led by Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Mark Leibler, president of the Australian Zionist Federation.

Australian Jews were deeply disturbed when the government decided last month not to emulate the United States by breaking off its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization, upgraded 18 months ago when the U.S. talks began.

President Bush suspended the U.S. dialogue when the PLO refused to condemn the aborted May 30 raid on Tel Aviv area beaches, which was perpetrated by a PLO constituent group.

Hawke, who heads the Labor Party government here, argued that it is inappropriate to calibrate the level of dialogue with the PLO.


But a statement issued in his and Evans’ names said the government “would avoid any new gesture for the immediate future which would detract from the seriousness with which Australia views the recent terrorist raid on Tel Aviv.”

The statement pointed out that the PLO representative in Australia had been refused access to the foreign minister as part of the Arab ambassadorial delegation since the raid.

Caplan and Leibler said that while they did not agree with the government’s failure to suspend dialogue with the PLO, they were “satisfied that Australia’s contacts with the PLO will be more limited in the future.”

Australian Jews also have been irked in recent months by the government’s criticism of Israel for settling Jewish immigrants in portions of Jerusalem once occupied by Jordan.

Negative statements on the subject were made by Paul Keating, who was acting prime minister during Hawke’s brief hospitalization, and by Michael Costello, deputy secretary of the Foreign Affairs Department.

The Jewish leadership consequently asked the ministers for an endorsement by the Australian government of a united Jerusalem, in which Jew are free to live anywhere in the city.

Hawke and Evans responded by recalling the opposition of successive Australian governments the Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after it capture from Jordan in 1967.

They agreed, however, that the future of Jerusalem is a special case and that the city should not be confused with the administer territories.

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